Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Archduke Otto von Hapsburg 1912-2011

The world has lost a great man with the passing of His Imperial Royal Highness Archduke Otto of Austria-Hungary. He was born November 20, 1912 and, incredible as it may seem, I recall reading an interview with him in TIME in which he stated that he could, vaguely, recall the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that set the old Europe on the road to suicidal war and which made his father the heir to the Hapsburg throne. In 1916 he became Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary and attended the coronation of his father in Budapest, Hungary. He watched his father try to enact federal reforms, end the First World War and hold his Dual-Empire together but, sadly, to no avail and in 1918 he went with his family into exile. In 1922 his father died and Archduke Otto, only 9-years-old, inherited the position of head of the Imperial Royal House of Hapsburg-Lorraine. He should have then become Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary etc but, of course, that was not possible.

For a time, it seemed that the possibilities for restoration were improving and Archduke Otto was involved in talks with the Austrian government toward that end. Once union with Germany had been forbidden by the Allies, a revival of Austrian national pride came with the rise to power of Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg. The Nazis, however, opposed this and assassinated Dollfuss and deposed Schuschnigg after invading Austria -the first victim of Nazi aggression. Needless to say, Archduke Otto was an implacably opposed to the Nazi Party as they were to him and all he represented. With a death sentence hanging over him, he traveled to the United States where he spent most of World War II. In the wake of the conflict, he proposed again trying to set right what had gone from after the First World War but no one listened. He felt strong ties to all of the former Hapsburg lands and it was a great pain to him to see almost all of them handed over to the Soviet Union as satellite states.

Thoroughly disgusted with nationalism, Archduke Otto entered politics as Dr. Otto von Hapsburg and from the start advocated for European unity. Although he favored monarchy where monarchy was the local tradition, he was no counterrevolutionary and always preferred to look forward rather than back. In 1961, in order to return to his ancestral homeland, the Archduke formally renounced his claim to the Austrian throne and pledged his loyalty to the republic. Later, he admitted to regretting this decision and socialist elements in government blocked his immediate return in any event. It was not until 1966 that he was able to go home again but he contented himself with running for office in Germany and in time he actually became a citizen of several formerly Hapsburg countries as well as obtaining German citizenship. None of it mattered much to him though as, when asked his nationality, he always said simply, “European”. Elected to the European Parliament he constantly worked for greater European unity as well as dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims.

None of this, however, represented a turning away from the history Archduke Otto represented as Head of the House of Hapsburg. His ideas about respecting history and tradition as well as European and particularly Central European unity provided the inspiration for the Black-Yellow Alliance which aims to restore the Hapsburg monarchy to a union of Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Czech and Slovakia. Furthermore, his ideas for a united Europe can also be seen as a continuation of the traditions of the Holy Roman Empire and the wider European Christendom of the Middle Ages or even the late Roman Empire. The Archduke was a head of the Austrian branch of the Order of the Golden Fleece and also a member of the Order of the Annunciation (Savoy, Italy), the Order of Charles III (Spain), the Papal Order of St Gregory the Great and a member of the Knights of Malta among his many other honors. The values represented by these Catholic orders of chivalry were immensely important to him as were the traditions they represented.

Archduke Otto was made famous around the world in 1988 when the meek and mild-mannered Hapsburg punched out the Northern Irish firebrand Ian Paisley on the floor of the European Parliament for hurling insults at Pope John Paul II when the Pontiff was invited to address the body. His Catholic faith was absolutely central to the Archduke, personally and for what it represented for his family and his “country” of Europe. He was a tireless defender of the record of his father, Emperor Charles I, and it was surely a proud moment when he saw his father beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004. His ideas about European unity have little in common with those of the secularist bureaucrats of the modern EU. For the Archduke, the Christian faith was positively central to everything that made up Europe and western civilization and he never tired of pointing that out. He worked tirelessly until his retirement, and still kept pretty busy even after that. In 2007 he abdicated his duties as head of the house to his son Archduke Charles (Karl) and he was deeply affected by the loss of his wife only last year. As with many such devoted couples, the one usually follows the other in my experience.

The loss of the Archduke is a terrible blow and though he was 98 and we all knew this day was coming for a long time, it does nothing to mitigate the sorrow. He was one of the list living links with the older, grander Europe of yesterday. He was a good man, good natured, hard working, upright and I know of no one who ever wrote to him who did not receive an answer. He was also a Hapsburg and the House of Hapsburg is one of those royal family names that looms large over the whole history of the modern western world. It was the first European royal house to reign over my own home and native land as attested by the Hapsburg eagles one can still find set in stone on the oldest buildings and landmarks. Being the skeptic that I am, I could never embrace the ‘united Europe’ concept as he did but, again, his vision was an admirable one with unity based on tradition, culture, history and I suppose political values too but certainly not the sort of atheistic, socialist super-state most EU promoters today envision. However, one of the things I admire most about the late Archduke was that, without compromising his principles, he was always engaged and realistic. He did not sit on the sidelines and criticize, he got involved, accepted what could not be changed and worked to change what could. The man was never idle and always constructive. Monarchists everywhere could learn much by his example.

My His Imperial Royal Highness rest in peace and may he walk forever in the eternal light of the divine presence.


  1. What a wonderful obituary, MM. It's a very sad day indeed.

    The Emperor is dead. Long live the Emperor! His Imperial and Royal Highness Karl II of Austria, Hungary, Croatia & Bohemia.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...